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Dear Bloggers Everywhere, Please Lose the “Over the Top” Opt-in Popups


In August, Kristi Hines wrote a post titled The Case For and Against Popup Opt-In Forms. For the post, she asked my opinionregarding the recent trend of opt-in popups sweeping the blogging world and this was my response.

AnnoyedI find auto “join my mailing list” popups to be extremely invasive and they create an incredibly bad user experience. Especially when I start reading something and then out of the blue BAM an auto pop asking me to join a mailing list interrupts my reading. How the hell do I know if I want to join your mailing list if you don’t give me a chance to read anything?

It’s the equivalent of walking into a bar and pulling up a bar stool next to the hot blonde on the end and saying “would you like to have sex with me?” Whoa slow down speed racer.

95% of the time I hit the back arrow when I am rudely interrupted by the auto pop. The one exception will be if I’m friends with the site owner and I’m willing to overlook sometimes if that’s the case.”


Ileane Smith also put together this video for the same post that I think illustrates my point perfectly.


I’ve been thinking more about these popups lately, and I thought it was time to explore the topic a little further so I can fully explain why I think they are such a terrible idea. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a marketer, so I understand the intention here. But I still think these popups do more harm than good .You want to get more subscribers, but at what cost?


3 reasons I’m so against these popups.

1. They are popups. Next to email spam, popups have long been some of the most hated forms of advertising on the internet. They are invasive and unwelcome. They rudely popup over whatever website you are actually trying to read. They’re annoying by design.

Allow me to me elaborate on this point a little bit using my own experience. I see a post that sounds interesting in my Twitter stream, so I click on the link to read the article. I get about one paragraph into it and BAM a popup not only rudely interrupts my reading, but it’s now asking me to subscribe to their RSS, newsletter, or whatever it is before I even have a chance to read one full article. How the hell do I know if I want to subscribe if you don’t give me a chance to finish the article? By this time, I’m so annoyed by the rude interruption I hit the back arrow.

2. They kill your social media marketing efforts. On sites like Digg, Twitter, StumbleUpon, etc., I can tell you popups significantly decreases your site’s marketability. Why? Because now when someone finds the popup annoying, they can vote against your article or post. An auto-popup will not go very far on sites like Stumbleupon or Digg before it starts getting thumbs downs or buried. So by having this type of popups you are screwing yourself over.

Also, you better believe me when I tell you that the chances of me sharing your content on my Twitter stream or in my social media circles are slim to none if you have an auto popup on your site or blog. My reputation is on the line, and I’m not going to tarnish it by sending my followers to a site that is going to throw a popup in their face.
3. I can’t be the only one who finds them annoying. It’s all about usability. If a blog owner puts a popups up over the screen you are reading, it is clearly creating a negative user experience. How many people do you want to run off of your site by throwing a popup in their faces?

Mystified by the Madness

I continue to be completely baffled by the growing number of bloggers that seem to think the opt-in auto popup is a good idea. There are plenty of other ways to gain subscribers without the over the top annoying popup. As Andrew Rondeau noted in Kristi’s article, he uses a WordPress plugin called subscribers magnet. Andrew noted in the article that his opt-in rate increased by 205% after installing this plugin.

If you’re creating great content, people are going to feel compelled to register or sign up. You can still have a good signup form with a compelling offer and a strong call to action without the freaking popup in the face.

What are your thoughts and opinions regarding the wave of opt-in popups that seem to be overtaking the blogosphere?



  1. Ben Cook October 27, 2010

    As soon as pop-overs stop working to generate opt-ins, I’ll stop using them.

    I don’t care for them as a user, and I suspect I’m not alone given the number of people I see complaining about them. However, the data I have from my sites is that they flat out work.

    I’ve seen a LOT of anecdotal statements against them, but I’ve yet to see any hard data to suggest that the degradation to user experience outweighs the increased opt ins. If I’ve missed any, please let me know as I’m definitely no lover of the pop-over. It’s just that the data I have says they’re worth it.

  2. Ashley L October 27, 2010

    I completely, 100% agree with this post, and I’m so glad someone else agrees with me and posted about it! I’ll suffer through it for posts I really want to read, but they never work on me. Instead, if I’m interested in the blog or site, I’ll take it upon myself to bookmark them or follow them somehow. Empowering your readers to make the decisions themselves is so much more valuable than shoving something in their face and begging for it.

  3. Roko Nastic October 27, 2010

    Those pop ups are really annoying, I cannot stand them. In the past I clicked back as soon as it pops up, but now they are all over the blogosphere, you just cannot escape for them any more.
    The most annoying thing is when it pop ups on a site you’re subscribed to. Makes me want to unsubscribe.

  4. Ben Cook October 27, 2010

    [quote name=”Roko Nastic”]
    The most annoying thing is when it pop ups on a site you’re subscribed to. Makes me want to unsubscribe.[/quote]There’s definitely room for pop-overs to get smarter. However, I think writing them off completely just because we don’t like them as users is a mistake.

    This debate reminds me of one of the first sites I did SEO work for. It had this annoying as hell auto-play audio on the home page. Naturally, I heard it about 1,583,382,237 times and begged the owner to let me pull it off.

    He agreed to let me A/B the audio and even let me continue the test after the initial results weren’t what I wanted to see. The fact of the matter was that the audio improved time on site, and the conversion rate. People were actually sitting there listening to this 2 minute audio clip!

    I was blown away and from them on vowed to always test things, even if they annoy the hell out of me.

    This is business folks, not interior decorating.

  5. Terry October 27, 2010

    Question if someone is a new user what is the the basis for the subscribe? So all you’ve really proven with increases using this is that a deirect CTA spurs them to action. Popups in and of themselves can’t get more subs, so IMO, had to be a predilection to sub before they get the popup… so possibly another more direct “call to action” was all that was needed and the popup in and of itself is not the reason for better conversion.

  6. Gerald October 27, 2010

    @Ben Cook,

    Just because some people join the list doesn’t mean it’s not also annoying and running other people off.

    “I’ve seen a LOT of anecdotal statements against them, but I’ve yet to see any hard data to suggest that the degradation to user experience outweighs the increased opt ins.”

    I personally don’t need hard scientific evidence to know that as a user I really can’t stand them.

    A little common sense goes a long ways here. You admit that you don’t care much for them either as a user. Well guess what? If you don’t care for them chances are good that many of your site visitors also don’t care for them.

  7. Ileane October 27, 2010

    Hi Gerald, those pop up will not go away will they. But on this site I see some flying birds that are very distracting. Did you know about them? I find that very ironic. LOL! Well thanks for sharing my video!
    Take care.

  8. Gerald October 28, 2010

    David just informed me that they are halloween bats, so I”m sure they will fly back to their bat caves after Halloween 🙂

  9. SNCadmin October 28, 2010

    Hey those are freakin BATS people… You know, like Halloween and all? I am a playful fella. Sheesh. And a few fun bats for a couple days ain’t nearly the same as a irritatinbg pop up. I wouldn’t compare the two. One is a ploy, the other just me having some fun.

  10. Ileane October 28, 2010

    David, That’s hilarious. I was totally not thinking about Halloween. I was looking that the Raven ad in your footer. My bad!!

  11. Max October 29, 2010

    I find them annoying as well, and fail to see how they could significantly increase the user experience.

    As a form of protest, every request for my email address will be filled with Eat your own spam! 😡

  12. Doc Sheldon November 4, 2010

    You’re not alone, Gerald. I can’t stand them either. I understand where Ben is coming from, but like you said… for every new subscribe, how many others were lost?
    There are other ways to attract (and hold) the user’s attention, that I think are a lot less risk of ruining the user’s experience.

  13. Dan Thies November 11, 2010


    A certain SEO author who gave me a hard time about asking for emails a couple years ago, then started using one of these Opt-In-Lightbox thingies, might disagree with us…

    But yeah. Them things are a pain in the toot. To me, “squeezing” on a landing page is one thing, but people do this stuff on top of their own blogs! 🙁

    The little slider at the bottom of the page works quite well.

  14. Dan Thies November 11, 2010

    @Ben Cook,

    Optimizing for the initial optin rate isn’t the same thing as optimizing the overall benefit.

    I used to get 41% optins with a popover (optimized), and it dropped to under 20% (unoptimized) when I lost the thing on principle.

    Got it up to 27% by optimizing the CTA/offer, and discovered that the overall list growth improved.

    As far as data, you can get a better answer with Google Analytics. Split test it. When you throw the popover, shove a custom variable or segment in there with GA.

    Check how many optins you have for each group after about 3 months.

    And how much the value per lead is too, because in many years, I’ve never lost lifetime value by making the process of doing business with me less annoying.

    You can get more fancy of course. Referral traffic is far more likely to revisit on their own than PPC traffic, which is why we still squeeze on paid traffic.

  15. Doc Sheldon November 11, 2010

    “… in many years, I’ve never lost lifetime value by making the process of doing business with me less annoying.”

    I think that says a lot! Just because we have the visitor on “our land”, doesn’t make it smart to bully them.

    These days, nearly everyone can sense a hard-sell, and when they do, their resistance automatically goes up. I think soft-sell tends to be more effective, when so much of the public is already inundated with pushiness on all fronts.

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